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More Than A Game

Reprinted from SNS January 2018

Taking part in adaptive sports is a great way to stay fit

When Chad Foster decided to take up wheelchair rugby, he thought the sport would help him stay physically fit. By his 20s, he’d already participated in wheelchair basketball, wheelchair softball and cycling, so the C6/7 quadriplegic decided to add a sport a little more on the wild side to the mix. But he wasn’t expecting such a mental and emotional boost, too. 

“When I started playing rugby, it gave me confidence because I made an immediate impact with the team,” says the 41-year-old Greenville, S.C., resident whose neck was broken during birth. “I remember showing up for my first practice and the coach said, ‘You’re about to start playing and you may not get lot of playing time,’ and I thought, ‘That’s fine, I understand.’ I started the first year and was a starter from then on. After each game, I was able to contribute to the success of my team, where in other sports I wasn’t able to because I didn’t have the strength to do that. With rugby, I was playing with other quads. It just gave me a confidence with myself.”

More Positive Mindset

Over the last three years, two studies from the University of Houston found that playing an adaptive sport can have dramatic results on wheelchair athletes and even the economy. 

In 2016, the university’s Department of Health and Human Performance published a study, funded by TIRR Memorial Hermann rehabilitation hospital, in the journal Spinal Cord that found frequent participation in wheechair rugby was associated with lower levels of depression in those with a spinal-cord injury (SCI). Those who practiced the sport two or more times per week scored significantly lower on depression and stress tests compared to those who practiced once a week or less. 

Houston graduate student and lead study author Stephanie Silveira, along with HHP faculty Daphne Hernandez, PhD, Tracey Ledoux, PhD, and Michael Cottingham, PhD, found although about half of all SCI patients suffer from psychological distress symptoms or symptoms of depression, only 17% of the 150 wheelchair rugby players who participated in the study had those symptoms. 

“What we found was that individuals who practiced rugby more frequently showed lower symptoms of depression. So people that were engaging in this team sport seemed to show less symptoms of what you would consider clinically depressed,” says Silveira. “I think that was really the take-home. Generally, depression rates are really high for people with spinal-cord injuries, and we found that only about 17 percent of individuals overall that were playing rugby showed those clinically significant symptoms.”

Researchers attended wheelchair rugby tournaments from January through April 2016 throughout the United States, with athletes filling out surveys consisting of 75-80 questions — with most being multiple-choice, fill-in-the-bubble answers. 

As of 2017, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistic Center, there are about 285,000 people with spinal-cord injury or disease (SCI/D) living in the United States and 81% of them are men. Additionally, according to figures from the United States Rugby Association, in 2015 there were 600 wheelchair rugby athletes nationwide. 

“An implication of that study is that individuals with SCI don’t necessarily need to go out and be participating in multiple sporting events to have positive mental health effects. They can participate in just one. It’s a great benefit due to the monetary cost of participating in multiple adaptive sports. The more adaptive sports you participate in, the more costly it becomes,” says Hernandez. “So, the idea that you only need to participate in one, particularly this would be wheelchair rugby, is a viable option for individuals with spinal-cord injuries to maintain a healthy mental health status.”


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More Than A Game


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